Auston Matthews

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NHL Power Rankings: The Predators are starting to roll

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The Nashville Predators have not only built a powerhouse team in the Western Conference, they have done it in such a way under the salary cap that they not only have their core locked in for the foreseeable future, they still have enough salary cap space to add players like Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino on long-term deals.

Those additions have helped make an already strong team one of the absolute best in the NHL, and they only seem to be getting better.

They not only enter the week with one of the best records in the league, they are starting to look better than the team that was in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago.

Entering play on Monday the Predators 13-2-2 in their past 17 games.

Since acquiring Turris in that blockbuster three-team trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators they are 10-2-2 while Turris himself has already recorded 13 points.

What is perhaps scariest about this team for the rest of the Western Conference is they have not really been fully healthy yet this season. Ryan Ellis, a key part of their defense, which is the backbone of their team, has yet to play this season. Bonino missed a significant chunk of the season and they are currently dealing with injuries to Johansen and Scott Hartnell. When totally healthy this team is going to be an abslute nightmare matchup for just about any team in the NHL with that defense and newfound center depth.

Their current run has them fourth in our power rankings.

Here is a look at where everybody else fits in.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They still have the NHL’s top two scorers, the NHL’s best goal differential, and the NHL’s best points percentage. Kind of hard to put anybody else on top of the league at this point, right?

2. St. Louis Blues — Losing Jaden Schwartz is just another injury added to the list this season for the Blues, but they keep finding ways to power through and keep winning. It helps that Brayden Schenn is on his way to a career year offensively.

3. Los Angeles Kings — They had a rough stretch where they lost seven out of eight games, but then they followed it up by winning eight in a row. They are once again at the top of the NHL’s goals against leaderboard and have started to find some offense. Anze Kopitar is making a very strong early season MVP case for himself. He is third in the league in scoring, playing a ton of minutes, and dominating in all three zones the way he did when he was the focal point of a two-time Stanley Cup winning team.

4. Nashville Predators — The roster is not only better than the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final, they also just simply look like a better team, too.

The Rest Of The Best

5. Vegas Golden Knights — They. Won’t. Stop. Winning. And now they are getting Marc-Andre Fleury back, the player that was supposed to be the cornerstone of their inaugural season. Quite a story that is developing here.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they can be when Cam Atkinson, a healthy scratch over the weekend, starts scoring goals again.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — It’s not just that the Maple Leafs have a superstar like Auston Matthews at the top of their lineup that makes them so dangerous and exciting offensively. It is the fact their lineup is just incredibly deep overall. Every line is capable of scoring goals on any given shift.

8. Washington Capitals — With wins in eight of their past 10 games, while also averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch, they are climbing the standings and starting to look like the Capitals again.

9. New York Rangers — As I said two weeks ago, winning just one of their first eight games put them in a hole that will be tough to climb out of in the standings. They are doing their best to make sure they do, in fact, climb out of it. They are 13-4-0 in their past 17 games.

10. Winnipeg Jets — They have cooled off a bit recently, but let’s not panic just yet. That offense is still great.

Stuck In The Middle

11. New Jersey Devils — A little bit of a fall from where they were two weeks ago, but the young talent on this team is still worth watching and giving Devils fans a lot of reason to believe, both for this season and the future.

12. Boston Bruins —  With wins in eight of their past 10 games the Bruins are really starting to put it together. David Pastrnak is becoming a star and looking to improve on his 34-goal, 70-point performance from a season ago.

13. New York Islanders — After scoring 34 goals a season ago Anders Lee is doing everything he can to show it was no fluke. With 17 goals in his first 34 games entering the week he is now on pace for 41 goals this season.

14. San Jose Sharks — If you like goals, their games are not the games to watch. The enter the week 26th in the league in goals scored and second in the league in goals against.

15. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau‘s brilliance has kind of overshadowed the fact that Sean Monahan is having a career year offensively (he has five more goals than Gaudreau) and is also starting to post dominant possession numbers.

The Mystery Teams: Are They Good Or Not? 

16. Minnesota Wild — Are they good or not is a question that we seem to be able to ask about the Minnesota Wild every season.

17. Chicago Blackhawks — An aging team that is pretty dependent on its goaltender at this point. Sometimes they look great. Sometimes they don’t. Is this the new normal for the Blackhawks?

18. Dallas Stars — After what was a mostly up-and-down 2016-17 season John Klingberg looks like he has back to being one of the NHL’s most dynamic and dominant defensemen.

19. Pittsburgh Penguins — On any given night they can look like the team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. They can also look like a team that has no idea what it is doing.

20. Vancouver Canucks — Whether the Canucks maintain their early season success and actually make the playoffs is secondary to the fact the two best players on this team are under the age of 23 and look to be like legitimate building blocks.

21. Montreal Canadiens — The ultimate “are they good or not?” team this season. One night they are winning 10-1. Another night they are getting routed by the Oilers. Who knows what team is showing up when the puck drops.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — They are once again breaking hockey math.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — They snapped their 10-game losing streak by rolling through Western Canada, beating the Flames, Oilers and Canucks by a combined score of 13-5. Jakub Voracek is very quietly putting together a dominant season offensively, at least as far as his playmaking is concerned.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Adam Henrique has been pretty outstanding since coming over in the big trade with the New Jersey Devils. Given their injury situation down the middle it has been a much-needed addition.

25. Florida Panthers –– Losing Roberto Luongo could be a devastating blow to a team that really can not afford one. He has been spectacular when in the lineup while his backups have been … well … anything but spectacular.

The Basement

26Colorado Avalanche — They overachieved for a while at the start of the year but with losses in 10 of their past 15 games they are starting to become the Avalanche again.

27. Edmonton Oilers — The deeper we get into the season the more likely it seems they are going to miss the playoffs and waste one of Connor McDavid‘s prime years. That remains astonishing.

28. Detroit Red Wings — In the past week they’ve lost games by scores of 10-1 and 6-1. They’ve also lost seven out of eight overall and are quickly falling down the standings. There just is not a lot to be excited about here.

29. Ottawa Senators — Not only is the team on the ice losing games with regularity, Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team has never been more in doubt. Other than that everything is great.

30. Arizona Coyotes — The travel schedule has not been kind to them. The good news? Ten of their next 12 games are at home. The bad news? Three of those first four games are against the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

31. Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres had a stretch where they were shutout three games in a row and were about 10 minutes away from a fourth. Since November 1 they have played 18 games. They have scored more than one goal in only nine of them.

Stamkos, Subban, Ovechkin and McDavid have early lead on All-Star voting

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The first week of voting for the 2018 NHL All-Star game is complete, and so far the leading vote-getters are Steven Stamkos (Atlantic Division), Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan Division), P.K. Subban (Central Division) and Connor McDavid (Pacific Division).

The 2018 game will be played in Tampa Bay on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The top vote-getters from each division, regardless of position, will be named as captains for their teams. This will be the third consecutive year the NHL will play a 3-on-3 mini-tournament made up of teams from each of the four divisions.

Here are the top-five vote-getters from each division.

Atlantic Division
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Central Division
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
5. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Metropolitan Division
1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders
4. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Pacific Division
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
3. James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

It is not a huge surprise that Stamkos and Kucherov are leading the voting in the Atlantic Division. The game is in Tampa and that duo has been driving the Lightning’s success this season as they have been one of the best teams in the league. Kucherov and Stamkos are the top-two point producers in the NHL as of Thursday.

Ovechkin, leading the Metropolitan Division, has the league lead in goals while McDavid is the league’s reining MVP and scoring champion. Subban is one of the most popular and marketable players in the league while also being the face of a Predators team that is one of the best in the NHL.

Probably the biggest surprise on any of the lists is Marc-Andre Fleury being fourth in the Pacific Division, mainly because he has only played in four games this season. Still, he remains a wildly popular player in two different cities (in Vegas with his current team as well as in Pittsburgh with his previous team).

Here are the PHT staff picks for each team’s captain.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers lose Cam Talbot, can’t catch a break

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Just when you thought the Edmonton Oilers might be getting the band back together…

Cam Talbot was placed on injured reserve on Thursday with an upper-body ailment that will keep him out for the next couple of weeks (and perhaps longer):

It comes at a time when the Oilers were starting to string a couple wins together, having won two straight and three of their past four. Connor McDavid had gotten over the flu, Zack Kassian finally scored and Talbot was starting a mini-revival in the crease.

And then someone angered the hockey gods.

Perhaps Talbot injured his back from him having to carry the Oilers all last season. Maybe this year, the load has just become too much to bear.

It’s a joke, of course, but Talbot has played a lot of hockey, with ‘a lot’ being a severe understatement.

The 30-year-old played 73 games last season, a whopping 89 percent of Edmonton’s schedule and held down a .919 save percentage to go along with his 42 wins.

And that load hasn’t lessened at all this season, with Talbot having played in 22 of Edmonton’s 25 games.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Edmonton’s over-exertion of Talbot is somewhat to blame, but what choice have they had?

They’ve needed to lean on Talbot because they’ve needed to win games. And backup Laurent Brossoit’s .881 save percentage and 0-3-1 record isn’t doing Talbot, or the basement-dwelling Oilers, any favors.

Now that load shifts to Brossoit, who will immediately need to get better if the Oilers are to overcome Auston Matthews (who has the sniffles) and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Perhaps the rest will do Talbot some good. He’s received very little.

Meanwhile, McDavid vs. Matthews offers a salivating matchup for all hockey fans, even if both teams are polar opposites at the moment.

The Leafs are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and are tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 33 points. As mentioned above, the Oilers are second last in the West and losers of six of their past 10.

Perhaps Matthews will be slowed down a little by the cold he is nursing. He failed to record a shot in his last game (which nearly led to Canada declaring several days of mourning), the first time in his career he’s done so. He also hasn’t scored in five games.

McDavid knows that pain. He hasn’t found the back of the net in his past five games either, but has offered up five apples in that time.

Matthews and McDavid have met twice last season and both times Matthews’ Leafs came out on top.

It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if something gave tonight for one (or both) of the superstars. Neither starves for that long.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Alex DeBrincat is defying your expectations

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No one expected this from Alex DeBrincat.

He was passed over 38 times by 25 teams in the 2016 NHL Draft.

He was undersized, his linemates were the reason for his successes in junior hockey and he wasn’t very good at the World Juniors.

The excuses for his pending failure were already laid out for him. He just had to walk the path.

Instead, DeBrincat went in a different direction, one where the questions about his stature and teammates have shifted to a singular query: ‘How good can DeBrincat become?’

Chicago Blackhawks fans have the luxury of salivating over the thought of DeBrincat’s ceiling.

The 19-year-old has been all the rage in Chi-Town and across the NHL after he notched his first career hat trick on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, an outing that catapulted him (if he wasn’t already there) into the same conversation as fellow rookies Clayton Keller in Arizona, Matthew Barzal in New York (Islanders) and Brock Boeser in Vancouver.

With 10 goals and 18 points in 24 games, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman may just have the steal of the 2016 draft in DeBrincat. The Michigan native is on pace for over 30 goals, which would easily have his name in the conversation for the Calder Trophy — if not engraved on it — if he can keep it up.

As mentioned above, DeBrincat’s size may have been the main reason he slid to the Blackhawks in the second round.

He’s listed at a diminutive 5-foot-7 (two inches shorter than Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames) and weighs in at only 165 pounds, numbers that don’t add up to elite talent in the eyes of many.

He’s certainly no heavyweight, but he has the ability (like Gaudreau) to use his small size as an advantage when it comes to being elusive and hard to contain.

It would have been foolish, too, to overlook what he was able to achieve offensively at the junior level. It should come as no surprise to anyone that DeBrincat can score. A lot.

DeBrincat was an elite-level goal scorer and point producer with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League, and while junior success doesn’t always equate to the same in the NHL (just ask Eric Fehr), it doesn’t hurt either.

Here’s the breakdown of DeBrincat’s three-year junior career:

  • 191 games played
  • 167 goals
  • 165 assists
  • 332 points

Compare that to Connor McDavid’s three-year junior career with the Erie Otters:

  • 166 games played
  • 97 goals
  • 188 assists
  • 285 points

DeBrincat is, of course, not McDavid. But those are some bloody impressive numbers, regardless.

But there’s an argument that he always played with great players. From teammates in McDavid to Dylan Strome in Erie to Auston Matthews with Team USA, DeBrincat has been blessed with some exceptional talent as linemates.

But they’re not pulling the trigger for him. That knack for putting pucks in the back of the net is DeBrincat’s best trait.

And he makes it look pretty effortless.

Now, DeBrincat has the advantage of not being the guy who has to be leaned upon heavily in Chicago. He doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting yet, and that will aid in his development.

“He does all the things that scorers do,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “How good he’s going to be, it’ll be fun to watch that play out because he has the makings of being a special player.”

Indeed.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Faksa’s hot hand cools Vegas

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Player of the Night: Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars.

In a span of 6:46, Faksa scored all three of the Stars’ goals in a 3-0 win, slowing down the Vegas Golden Knights for at least one night. (That face he’s making in the post’s main image is actually a reaction to all of the gambling/”Facts of Life” puns that thankfully didn’t make it into headlines.)

This is the first hat trick of Faksa’s career. He now has eight goals this season, putting him in a position to crush last season’s career-high of 12 goals.

Troll of the Night: Glen Gulutzan

There’s believing in your team and then there’s challenging an empty-netter with less than a second remaining.

Someone should break down the environmental impact of the NHL actually having to go through the motions of doing a blog post and everything else they would normally do on this tally.

Wasted Rally

The Rangers admirably fought back from a three-goal deficit to tie things up against the Panthers, with Chris Kreider (two goals, one assist) and Pavel Buchnevich (1G, 2A) leading the way. For those who question Kreider’s efforts, consider this goal:

It was all for naught, as Denis Malgin – new addition to Florida’s top line – scored the game-winner, and didn’t even have the decency to wait until overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Bo Horvat made a great play, with bonus points for it this goal coming at John Tavares‘ expense. Save that puck, kid.

To little surprise, Tavares got the last laugh, powering the red-hot Islanders to a 5-2 win.

Malcolm Subban made some sweet saves for Vegas in a losing effort, too:

Factoids

Anze Kopitar is about as hot to start this season as he was cold in all of 2016-17, basically:

Circling back to Tavares, maybe the Islanders should stay in Brooklyn a little longer, after all?

A friendly reminder that Auston Matthews is a premium “volume shooter,” among other skills.

John Tortorella isn’t just good at landing gigs, he usually makes his presence felt.

Scores

Lightning 2, Sabres 0
Islanders 5, Canucks 2
Panthers 5, Rangers 4
Sharks 3, Flyers 1
Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)
Kings 4, Red Wings 1
Predators 3, Blackhawks 2
Maple Leafs 4, Flames 1
Oilers 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.